Fifty years of wrestling honored and inducted into Danbury HOF
By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Wrestling Online
DANBURY -- There are plenty of athletic Hall of Fames at schools around Connecticut. They honor, recognize and remember the men and women who stood tall on the athletic playing field. Some honor individual teams that won state championships or achieved legendary feats.
In Danbury, the Danbury High School Athletic Hall of Fame had just one inductee at it recent induction banquet – the Danbury High wrestling program.
The Hall of Fame didn’t recognize one year, five years or 10 years. They recognized all 50 years of the program’s existence. Every member of the wrestling program from that first day in December 1966 through today will be a part of the Danbury Athletic Hall of Fame.
“This is a legendary accomplishment,” said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. “We could not celebrate the entire program. Not only is this program worthy of this achievement but it shows that the impossible is truly possible if you believe in your talent, your coaches, your teammates and your school.
“Danbury High School is proud of you. Danbury is proud of you. Welcome to the Danbury Athletic Hall of Fame,” he said.
The Danbury High wrestling program is one of the most dominant sports programs in state history. It began in 1967 and was successful from the start with winning records the first eight seasons. Danbury went undefeated (12-0) in 1971.
The program began to gather momentum in the 1980s. They won their first state titles with a pair of Class LL titles in 1989 and 1990. In 1990, Danbury became the first team from Connecticut to win a New England championship.
Throughout the 1990s, the Hatters battled NFA and Manchester for state championships. In 1997, Danbury beat NFA for the third Class LL title. It was the beginning of dynasty. Since that tournament nearly 20 years ago, Danbury has captured 16 of the last 20 Class LL tournaments.
Danbury has placed in the top 10 of the New England tournament 12 times, including a second place finish in 2014. Since scoring resumed at the State Open tournament in 2001, the Hatters have won 12 times.
The Hatters have won more dual meet matches in state history – 801 matches -- than everyone except Ledyard (805). They’ve had more undefeated seasons than any other team – 11, including an 18-0 record last winter.
Former coach John Nimock (1992-99) went 167-8-1 in his tenure – the winning percentage in state history (.954). The man who followed him, Ricky Shook, has led his teams to 323 wins and 19 losses – the third highest winning percentage in state history (.944)
Mike Morris led the Hatters to an impressive 219-36 record from 1979-91. “I got us started,” Morris said. “John put us on the map and Ricky made us famous.”
Several hundred former and current Danbury High wrestlers attended the banquet. It started late because, well, folks were too busy catching up and talking with each other to sit down and listen to the speakers.
“Team excellence is what we celebrate in the induction of our tenth class into the Athletic Hall of Fame,” said Jim Blansfield, president of the Danbury Athletic Hall of Fame. “By inducting the wrestling program, we are adding a unique entry to the Danbury Athletic Hall of Fame – one that we are proud of – and in doing so, we set a new bar future wrestling teams.”
Morris, Nimock and Shook were among the speakers. Mark Tolla, who began wrestling in junior high in Danbury and coached wrestling in town for years, spoke along with Gary Tilbe, a current Danbury High assistant coach and Mark Cammisa, a youth wrestling coach in Danbury who has been a big part of USA Wrestling Connecticut helping to grow the sport throughout the state.
It’s a close-knit family. Many of the wrestlers were first introduced to wrestling in elementary school and junior high school. There are few novices once they get to high school.
Morris, Nimock and Shook get the headlines leading the high school squad but they would be the first to admit that the work and dedication of many men and women with the youth wrestling programs in town give them a tremendous advantage at the varsity level.
In Danbury, the wrestling season has already begun. The high school season is still a few weeks away but youngsters have been competing in USA Wrestling preseason tournaments and working out with their teams. Jakob Camacho earned a fourth place medal a few weeks ago at the Super 32 tournament in Virginia, one of the toughest preseason tournaments in the country.
Junior Kevin Jack, one of the newest co-captains for the North Carolina State wrestling team, was in attendance. Just a few years ago, he was one of the boys on the high school team. Now, he is a role model for many. As a freshman at NC State, he became just the fourth Connecticut-born wrestler in history to earn All-American honors at the Division I level.
Hatters past and present are ready to go.
Danbury wrestling highlights
A few notable achievements by the Danbury High wrestling team in 50 years of competition.
State championships (18): 1989, 1990, 1997, 1998, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2016
State Open championships (12): 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014
New England champions: 1990
Most consecutive state titles: 14, 1997 through 2010
Most dual meet wins in state history: 2nd with 801
Undefeated seasons (11):
1971 (12-0), 1989 (22-0),
1990 (24-0), 1997 (23-0),
1998 (25-0), 1999 (19-0),
2000 (21-0), 2005 (21-0),
2008 (22-0), 2012 (20-0),
New England champions
Demaine Dillard (189), 1990
Steve Scott (145), 2001
Matt Tricarico (171), 2005
Charlie Costanzo (119), 2008
Charlie Costanzo (119), 2010
Kevin Jack (120), 2013
Kevin Jack (126), 2014
Juan Garcia (182), 2015
Jeremy Fields (138), 2016
State wrestler of the year
1997: Leo Lopes, 125
2003: Anthony Hayes, 140
2009: Charlie Costanzo, 119
2010: Charlie Costanzo, 119
2013: Kevin Jack, 120
2014: Kevin Jack, 126
Four-time FCIAC Tournament champions
Jeff Vitti, 1987-90
Ben Levitt, 1988-91
Trevor Howe, 2000-03
Jeff Marra, 2002-05
Nick Weyer, 2005-08
Charlie Costanzo, 2007-10